‘Teaching Tolerance’ Reports States Are Taking Note Of Montana’s Success On Indian Education

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project is taking notice of Montana’s Indian Education for All Program when it comes to providing students with an historically accurate and culturally responsive education.

An increasing number of states are taking notice of Montana’s successes and moving toward similar models.

Teaching Tolerance

Indian Education for All is a mandate that is part of Montana’s 43-year-old constitution, but funding wasn’t provided to pay for the initiative until 1999 when my mom, then state Rep. Carol Juneau sponsored a bill that outlined solid objectives in providing Indian Education for All to Montana’s public school students. Even then, it took a few more years and a lawsuit for funding to begin.

As Teaching Tolerance reports, the Smithsonian is about to make public curriculum called “Native Knowledge 360,” aiming to make American Indian education a priority.

“We’re a textbook-oriented society and the textbooks, when they deal with Indians, don’t have a lot to say, or it’s all Manifest Destiny, so you’re really on your own to develop curriculum,” says Jon Reyhner, professor of education at Northern Arizona University and the co-author of American Indian Education: A History. Reyhner, who taught Native students for four years at reservation schools and spent another 10 years as a school administrator, understands how difficult it is for even the most well-meaning teachers to tackle this challenge on their own. “When you’ve got the class sizes that teachers have, asking them to do much curriculum development is a recipe for burnout.”

And that’s assuming the issue is on educators’ radars at all. Although there are 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States, American Indians and Alaskan Natives make up just 1 percent of the population, and most are concentrated in Alaska and the West, along with a few areas in the Great Lakes region and the far Northeast. Not surprisingly, these are the only areas where the needle is being moved on this issue. – Teaching Tolerance

The report adds that only seven states have laws or constitutional language mandating comprehensive Indian education. And implementation of those policies, Teaching Tolerance reports, is scatter-shot.

“Montana stands as the notable exception. Its aptly named Indian Education for All (IEFA) Act mandates a “culturally responsive” curriculum approach that requires school districts to collaborate with tribal leaders and provide every student a comprehensive education on Native history, culture and tribal sovereignty. But public school students are not the only target audience. A key component of Montana’s success (in addition to robust funding and a dedicated team of support specialists who ensure IEFA compliance) is its emphasis on pre-service professional development. But while providing teachers with the education and confidence to teach this content can help break the cycle of ignorance, advocates have found that getting started isn’t always easy.

“People are not that eager to learn it at first, I must be honest,” says Jioanna Carjuzaa, who facilitates IEFA professional development for the Montana State University system. “Teachers are products of the same K-12 system. What happens on that journey is very limited. I think it is really difficult because you’re asking people for a major paradigm shift. Even in a state where we have tons of materials and professional development, we’re asking teachers to teach about something they don’t have a good understanding about or knowledge base [for].” – Teaching Tolerance

I’m proud that Montana continues to be a national leader in Indian Education. So many voices and leaders brought us to this point, and great educators are keeping us out in front.

Read the full article from Teaching Tolerance, here.